Saturday, January 5, 2019

How to mix a song with free plugins part 1/5: Drums!

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
This time we're going to embark to a pretty huge topic that will touch many of the article already present on this blog, but with this I'm going to try and make order to what I've learned in the past few years and share some extra tip with you.
In order to obtain the maximum from this serie of articles please follow the hyperlinks, they all lead to in depth articles dedicated to the various topics.

The mixing process of an album is almost a philosophical project: it consists into gathering together a puzzle with a million pieces (songwriting, recordings of all instruments...) that would have no meaning on their own and carefully combine them in order to make a vision that until now is only in the head of the artist into a form that anyone can enjoy.
The process can be long and complicated, and it requires first of all order in our head: to help making order we have broken it down into one chapter for each instrument, in order to cover as many topics as possible.
Even before starting putting together our project it's important that we have clear in mind the focus of our mix (click here for a dedicated article): this will be the north start that will guide us through the mix, and will give us a direction towards where the overall sound should aim.

Let's start by assuming that we have a good song, and that this song has been recorded properly: we start with the project preparation phase (click here for a very detailed article), and once we have all the tracks in order, the project tidy and color coded, we make sure that the gain staging is correctly set to make sure that no track (nor the master fader) peaks above -12db.

I suggest to start with a mix bus compressor (click here for a dedicated article) in the master bus set very gently (2:1 to 4:1 ratio, the more dynamic and aggressive the genre, the higher the ratio), and lower the threshold knob until you see you are shaving off not more than a couple of db of peak: this move seems useless at the beginning, but it will add a little of energy to the mix, will help the instruments to glue better together and will allow us to push less with the compressors in the individual tracks, which is usually more noticeable and can be less pleasant.
Moving on with the mix we'll be introducing also all the other instruments, and gradually the general volume will be increasing: we need to lower the faders of the individual instruments in order to make sure that we we'll be still shaving off not more than 2db with the M.B.C., and not peak above -12.
This will be a good way to keep under control the gain staging and the headroom, we're going to need it in the mastering phase.

The general rule is that a mix is made of many 1% moves that all must go towards the direction of achieving an euphonic final result: you can try and experiment with all the crazy plugins and processors you want, but after each move you must always a/b with the plugin on and off (using a reference track at every step to see whether we are going in the right direction): if the sound gets better, leave it, if it doesn't add anything or it makes it worse, remove it. Sometimes less is more.

Now let's start with the drums, the pulsating heart of our song: if we get this right, we are already halfway there.
Are we using a drum sampler? Is the drum sampler featuring pre-processed sounds? 
In this case we need to spend most of our attention to which samples to use: carefully go through you whole library of drum samplers and individual samples to find the perfect snare, the perfect kick and so on, because once they are there, there is very little room for mixing, since the samples are already processed.
You can find many free and paid drum samplers on this blog by simply typing drum sampler in the search engine.
Once we have our ideal drum sound we need to work with the integrated mixer of our drum samper to make the levels, and we could probably add some high-passed reverb through an fx track (we can high pass the reverb to make sure it affects only from a certain part of our sound up) from 200hz to 1000hz up (this way we will avoid the sample to get too dark and boomy), and to carefully introduce some of it into the snare, toms and cymbal tracks to make them feel like they are being played in the same room.
Usually with pre-processed samples there is no need for extra eq and compression.

This is a good moment to hear the aid that the bus compressor is giving us: try to playback the drum track and turn it on and off from the master bus: you will notice that there is an 1% increase of fatness and roundness to the sound, and this is just one of the many 1% a mix is made of.
If the sound instead starts pumping (meaning that when a loud sound like a snare is played the other ones lowers in volume) it means we need to lower the compressor.

Are we instead using real drum sounds or non processed samples? 
Then we need to follow the steps of our in depth drum mixing guide.





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